‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’ became a publishing phenomenon. Now it’s hitting the big screen
Garth Stein on seeing his book — and his beloved narrator-dog — get the Disney treatment
When Garth Stein published his third novel, “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” he likely didn’t anticipate the book would land on the New York Times bestseller list — and stay there for three years.
And he never imagined that Kevin Costner would one day provide the voice of the book’s narrator — a dog named Enzo — in a Disney movie adaptation opening this week.
“Nope! I did not see that one coming,” Stein says of connecting with Costner. “But he’s great!”
A Los Angeles native who now lives in Seattle, Stein started his career as a documentary producer. He made his literary debut in 1998 with the thriller “Raven Stole the Moon,” and followed up seven years later with the novel “How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets.”
Both novels gained positive reviews from critics, but neither prepared him for the breakout success of “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” which quickly became a publishing phenomenon. The novel follows a mutt named Enzo (in the movie, he’s a golden retriever) who reflects on his life with Denny Swift, the race car driver who’s been his constant companion for years. The book was inspired by Stein’s own love of dogs and his hobby of racing cars (from which he retired after crashing in — wait for it — the rain).
Stein has published a middle-grade adaptation of the novel, “Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog,” as well as a series of children’s picture books featuring Enzo. His latest novel for adults, “A Sudden Light,” was published in 2014.
Director Simon Curtis’ film adaptation of the novel, also starring Milo Ventimiglia and Amanda Seyfried, opens nationwide on Friday. In an interview, Stein talked about taking his book to the big screen and what’s he’s working on next.
What were your experiences on set?
I took my family up to Vancouver to visit for a day, and you can find me and my sons in the background of a pit stop scene, if you look closely. I also was at Pacific Raceways near Seattle for some of the racing sequences. It’s a lot of fun to visit a big Hollywood set — lots of crew and extras and equipment. My sons (23, 20, and 12) don’t get impressed by much, but they were impressed that their old man’s book was being made into a movie!
Did your background in film help you better understand the process of adapting your book into film?
Not really. I made documentary films, so that doesn’t really translate to Hollywood. However, my background in storytelling helped me better understand the process. I know that changes have to be made when you take a 360-page book and turn it into a 93-minute movie. My hope was that the film would have its heart in the right place, and it certainly does.
Who’s the better looking “Art of Racing in the Rain” star: Milo Ventimiglia, Kevin Costner or Parker the dog?
I don’t pick my favorite kid. I don’t pick my favorite book. And I don’t pick my favorite star in the movie. And anyway, I would pick Amanda Seyfried if I had to pick one!
What are you working on now?
I’ve got a graphic novel coming out next summer called “The Cloven,” and I’m putting finishing touches on my new novel, “A Couple of Old Birds,” publication date to be determined. I’m also on the board of Hugo House, a literary center in Seattle, and I’m chair of the Author Leadership Circle for Binc (The Book Industry Charitable Foundation), which makes grants to booksellers in need. So I have a lot going on!
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